The Root House, believed to be the oldest frame house in Marietta, was built by pharmacist William Root at the corner of Church and Lemon Streets nearly 170 years ago.
The home, which is now a museum, was a single-family residence through the 1940s before it was subdivided into apartments. By the late 1980s, the Root House had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition.
The house has been moved twice. It was rolled a half block down Lemon Street on logs in the 1890s to make way for the Clarke Library, which still stands. Nearly 100 years later, in 1989, its owner, Mayes Ward funeral home, donated it to Cobb Landmarks on the condition it be moved again. It now stands on Polk Street just off Marietta Parkway.
“It is a rare example (in Cobb) of a town house circa 1845” and there are very few structures like the Root House still standing in the area, said Cathy Brown, who has been the communications chair for Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society since 2004.
The property is owned by the CLHS, which sponsored the site’s nomination to the National Register.
Brown said the distinction is a “really big deal” and something CLHS has been working on since 1991.
The National Register provides formal recognition of a property’s architectural, historical or archaeological significance. Listing in the National Register does not place obligations or restrictions on the use or transfer of the property nor does it protect it from demolition.
“The application process is very involved,” said Cathy Brown’s husband, Chris, who has chaired the preservation committee of the CLHS and now chairs the finance committee.
A museum recreating history
The Root House museum now offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience the life of Hannah and William Root, early settlers of Marietta.
Born in Philadelphia in 1815, William Root first moved to Augusta and then Marietta in August 1839 to open the city’s first pharmacy, on the north side of Marietta Square.
In 1844, Root married Hannah Remer Simpson, and by 1850, the couple had four children, owned one slave and maintained 80 acres in Cobb.
The Root family left Marietta for Washington, Ga., in 1864 and returned in July 1865 to find their house had survived Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and the subsequent occupation of Marietta during the Civil War.
Chris Brown said the museum was not a “grand plantation house” with grand furnishings. Instead, the middle-class family’s dwelling is more authentic to the way a large percentage of residents lived at that time.
The Root House is a two-story frame house with a wood-shingled roof and two chimneys. The interior touches include wood walls, ceilings, floors, mantels and moldings. The period furniture is in the fashion of the 1850s.
“It sort of represents every man,” Cathy Brown said.
The Root House is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. so volunteer docents can tell the story of the house, the Root family and life in Marietta during the 1850s.
The site includes a detached kitchen house with a working 1850s cook stove and a heritage garden with flower beds and vegetable plots containing plants that were available in Cobb before 1860.
This year, CLHS celebrates its 40th anniversary protecting the historic structures and cultural heritage of Cobb through preservation, education and advocacy.
Chris Brown said the efforts began after the historic Cobb Courthouse was torn down on the Square and the group formed “in response to the loss.”
More than half of the funds needed to support CLHS come from memberships, sponsors, family endowments and fundraisers, with less than $2,000 coming from government agencies, Cathy Brown said.
A couple living in history
Chris and Cathy Brown purchased a historic home off Cherokee Street in 2001. The couple moved in after 18 months of restoration projects.
“It is always fun to see inside the walls of an old house,” said Cathy Brown, who was amazed to see how her older home was constructed and the techniques used at the time.
Historic buildings and avenues in Marietta, used as both museums and residences, make the city unique, she said.
“It is part of the charm, part of the draw,” especially to tourists, Cathy Brown said.
After years of debate, in August the Marietta City Council designated a group of 14 homes on Kennesaw Avenue as the city’s first locally regulated historic district. Homes in the Kennesaw Avenue Historic District will be regulated by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission for external changes noticeable from the street.
Although the approval of the first historic district by the City Council and the historic preservation ordinance are great steps forward, “there is a lot more work to do,” Chris Brown said.
He wants homes along Cherokee Street and Church Street to also be given the same distinction by the city.
“I think it is critically important” to protect the historic character and architecture of the homes, Chris Brown said.
Still, he knows it is a challenge — and large financial investment — to convert older buildings into new uses.
“Not every building should be saved by any means,” Chris Brown said.
But before a historical area in Marietta is changed, there should be a strong discussion between the city and CLHS.
For instance, dozens of residents voiced concerns about a WellStar Health System proposal to expand Kennestone Hospital and erect a 20-foot sky pedestrian bridge over Church Street.
The contentious issue will be reviewed and possibly voted on by the Marietta City Council on Wednesday.